Southern Miss entered the Conference USA baseball tournament with its postseason future very much in doubt.
After heaving the championship trophy high at MGM Park on Sunday, the Golden Eagles are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the country.
USM shut down FAU 4-0 in Sunday’s C-USA tournament title game to clinch C-USA’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament to earn the program’s fourth consecutive trip to the postseason.
Four consecutive wins this week served as a remarkable turnaround for a USM team that endured three straight conference series defeats to close out the regular season.
“It’s a lot like the (2009 College World Series USM) team,” USM senior lefty Stevie Powers said. “They say get hot at the right time and right now is the right time. We’re going to celebrate this one today, go watch the selection show and see where we end up. Wherever we go, they got something coming for them.”
USM (38-19) will find out which regional it will take part in during the selection show at 11 a.m. on Monday on ESPNU.
Sunday’s victory before a crowd of 3,476 erased whatever remaining doubt there was as to whether the Golden Eagles were postseason bound.
“Nothing like it, baby,” said Walker Powell, who received the pitching start for USM. “This team deserves it. We had a of peaks of valleys with this team. I couldn’t be more proud. This whole tournament, our backs were against wall. I’m extremely proud of our guys.”
After the USM pitching staff showed signs of fading late in the regular season, the team’s arms were their best at the most crucial point of the season. USM pitchers combined to hold opponents scoreless for 19 consecutive innings to close out the tournament, including 7 1/3 innings from Gabe Shepard as part of a three-pitcher no-hitter on Saturday in a 6-0 win over Rice.
“Walker set the tone the first day,” Powers said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he came out and shoved it for four innings (on Sunday). Gabe, obviously he had a record-setting performance. We just had to come out do our job and the hitters picked us up from there.”
On short rest after making starts earlier in the tournament, Powell and Powers combined to throw 6 2/3 innings in Sunday’s contest. Powers (5-4) delivered 2 2/3 innings in relief and was handed the victory.
Powell was working on three days of rest after throwing 91 pitches in a 6-4 win over Rice on Wednesday.
A 1-out error by Danny Lynch at third helped load the bases for FAU in the bottom of the first, but Lynch recovered quickly from his mistake to start a 5-4-3 double play on the next batter to get Powell out of the bases loaded jam.
Powell had little trouble working through the FAU lineup for the next three innings.
“I felt good,” he said. “I was a little more sore than normal. That’s to be expected coming back short days’ rest. Felt good for the most part.
With Fred Franklin helping out with another nice defensive play in the fourth inning, Powell lasted four scoreless innings. The 6-foot-7 Arkansas native gave up five hits, struck out two and walked none.
After FAU came up with a pair of 1-out hits in the ninth on reliever Cody Carroll, Hunter Stanley entered the game and retired the final two batters to finish off the shutout.
“I feel like this give us momentum starting regionals,” Franklin said. “We’ve just got to do what we’ve got to do and finish there.”
USM redshirt junior outfielder Matt Wallner was named the C-USA tournament MVP after finishing 7-of-16 with two homers and four RBIs at the plate.